For me, diversity has a very personal meaning beyond the color of my skin or how I speak English with a Spanish accent. Working in Europe at a French organization was a particularly eye-opening experience. Cultural intelligence (CQ) refers to a person’s capability to adapt to new cultural situations. It is an important factor in determining who succeeds in global work assignments. A person with CQ will try to understand how different cultures work and have an open mind to learn from new experiences. These skills are not only essential when undertaking an international assignment but also will improve performance for the whole team.
If you are working outside your home country where no one speaks your native language, you get a different perspective on what it means to be a minority. As a woman of color in the United States, I have always felt bicultural. When I was working in France, for the first time in my professional life, I felt my experiences dealing with diversity in the United States were useful. In the United States, I have always been part of a minority in the workforce. I already knew how to adapt and be successful in that kind of environment. I was able to take advantage of this knowledge to navigate a global environment from the beginning.
Working in France broadened my approach to leadership and the meaning of diversity. As a Latina, I am accustomed to being different from the dominant group, and I am more comfortable in situations where I am different than others are. I was the only Latina on my team in France, and it was no big deal. Likewise, I am used to being the only Latina on the executive team at Catalyst. CQ has helped me manage effectively across cultural differences.
The opportunity for a global assignment opened doors I never imagined existed. It also allowed me to learn more about myself. I became more willing to assimilate and learn while on foreign soil than I ever was in this country. Never did I feel I was expected to lose my sense of self in this new culture.
CQ is an essential tool for every manager who deals with diverse teams. We all know that diversity on any team promotes creativity and innovation. But it is how we manage that diversity which empowers a team.
If you are a woman of color considering a position abroad, you have a terrific opportunity not only to learn from a stretch assignment but also to be vulnerable to cultural interactions you don’t expect. You will return to the United States with a fuller and richer knowledge of your own diversity.